Our Opinion: Photo ID for voters: Prevention or politics?

We are reluctant to support a proposed constitutional amendment that would require voters to show a photo ID at the polling place.

The real impact of such an amendment likely will fall somewhere between opposing positions outlined in a News Tribune story Tuesday. Support for photo ID was argued by state Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit; opposition was presented in a news release from Democratic Secretary of State Jason Kander, Missouri’s chief election authority.

First, altering the constitutional right to vote is not a “small issue,” as characterized by Kraus. But we also are skeptical about sizable, perhaps inflated, estimates, such as Kander’s claim that “approximately 220,000 registered voters could be disenfranchised.”

Kraus claims a photo ID is needed to prevent voter fraud. Kander spokesman John Scott, however, says the secretary of state’s office has uncovered “no documented case of voter impersonation fraud” in Missouri.

Kraus does not dispute the point, but contends voter fraud has occurred elsewhere and could happen here.

We’re with Kraus on that point; prevention is preferable — and often less expensive — than prosecuting and punishing misdeeds.

Scott also pointed out the people most likely to be disenfranchised by the proposal are people without driver’s licenses — some students, senior citizens and public transportation riders.

Democrats identify people in those groups among their supporters. Democrats also criticize Republicans for attempting to silence the opposition rather than persuade people to embrace the GOP message.

To the extent that criticism is accurate, we side with the Democrats on that argument.

The tipping point for us is the constitution, that blueprint for governing that often proves inconvenient in political showdowns.

The Missouri Constitution (Article VIII; Section 2) reads: “All citizens of the United States … are entitled to vote at all elections by the people …” Voter registration also is included in Section 2, and in Missouri law, but photo identification is not required to register or to vote.

Kraus said if the amendment is approved, prospective voters who come to the polls without a photo ID would be permitted to cast a provisional ballot, which would not be counted until the voter’s signature could be verified.

This strikes us as a complicated process to deal with on Election Day, particularly a busy one where voters are waiting in line.

If Missourians decide a photo ID is necessary, could fears of fraud and disenfranchisement be addressed by requiring a photo ID to register prior to an election, rather than to vote on Election Day?

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